Cast & Crew
Gypsy Rose Lee
Photos & Videos
In Laguna Beach, California, Virginia Weston runs to a bathhouse after a swim in the ocean. As her little dog starts yapping, an escaped inmate from a nearby mental institution steps out of the bushes, stabs the dog and then attacks Virginia. Alerted by Virginia's hysterical screams, her half brother, sculptor Charlie Weston, runs onto the front porch of his house and shoots the assailant. Charlie then drives Virginia, who is suffering from traumatic shock, to the Highland Sanitarium, where he commits her to the care of Dr. Greenwood. Over the next six months, Virginia falls under Greenwood's control and he becomes increasingly possessive of his voluptuous blonde patient. A short time later, Greenwood decides the time has come for them to leave the sanitarium, and they move to the city, where Virginia changes her name to Yolanda Lange and finds work as an exotic dancer at the El Madhouse nightclub. One night, Bill Sweeney, a reporter who covers the nightclub circuit for the local newspaper, comes to El Madhouse and is mesmerized by Virginia's sensuous dancing. After Virginia finishes her performance, Joann Mapes, the nightclub's proprietor, takes Bill backstage to meet her new star dancer. As Bill flirts with Virginia in her dressing room, he becomes intrigued by the nude statue of a frightened woman that he spots on her dressing table. Greenwood, now posing as Green, Virginia's manager, enters and after gruffly dismissing Bill, admonishes Virginia to follow his orders. On a dark street later that night, Virginia is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Before her Great Dane, Devil, can drive the assailant away, the man slashes Virginia across her stomach. After Virginia is taken to the hospital, Bill goes to the newsroom to review the file of Lola Lake, a dancer recently killed by "The Slasher." As Bill studies the article and accompanying photo, he is startled to see the statue of a nude, frightened woman lying next to Lola's body. When Bill goes to the hospital to question Virginia about the statue in her dressing room, she denies that it was ever there. Afterward, Bill discovers that Lola bought the statue at a gift shop owned by Raoul Reynarde. There, Raoul tells Bill that the statue is called "Screaming Mimi" and was created by a sculptor named Charlie Weston. After Bill buys Raoul's last statue, he sneaks into Virginia's dressing room and finds that her copy of the statue is gone. Once Virginia recovers, Capt. Bline, the officer in charge of the investigation into her attack, gives a party in her honor at El Madhouse, hoping that Virginia might be able to identify her assailant among the partygoers. Virginia never comes to the party, however, and instead walks Devil along the street of her attack. Sensing that Virginia would return there, Bill follows and meets her. After they passionately embrace, Bill takes Virginia back to his apartment, and as they make love, Virginia declares that he makes her feel "like a full person." The next morning, when Virginia awakens from a nightmare, Bill urges her to leave Greenwood and arranges to meet her at Virginia's apartment in one hour. When Bill arrives, however, Greenwood is there and Virginia, now cold and distant, insists on staying with him. After Bill storms out, Greenwood warns Virginia that she is "nothing" without him. Soon after, Bill receives a telegram from Charlie responding to his inquiry about the statue. Posing as an art dealer, Bill visits Charlie in Laguna Beach and learns that he modeled Mimi on his sister Virginia. Charlie explains that, just as he was beginning to sculpt the statue, Virginia was attacked and he was forced to commit her. Several months later, he received a letter from the sanitarium notifying him of his sister's death. Upon returning to the newspaper, Bill tells his editor, Walter Krieg, that he believes there is a link between Mimi and the slasher. Hoping that someone might be able to identify the statue stolen from Virginia's dressing room, Bill asks Walter to run a picture of it in the paper. After the police tap Virginia's phones, Bline and Bill listen in from the basement of her apartment building. Soon after, Greenwood calls from the lobby to see Virginia. Once inside her apartment, Greenwood chastises Virginia for keeping the statue, which he describes as "the fetish on which she has fixed her mania." Greenwood contends that because Virginia saw the statue right after her attack, she associated it with the attacker and then became fixated on those aggressive feelings, ultimately killing Lola after she bought a copy of the statue. Greenwood then explains that he attacked Virginia the night she met Bill in hopes of reversing her fixation. When Greenwood rifles through Virginia's drawer and finds her copy of the statue, she becomes enraged and commands Devil to attack him. Devil then lunges at Greenwood, sending him crashing though a window and onto the street below. As Bline, Bill and several police officers rush to the mortally injured Greenwood, Greenwood lies that he killed Lola, then beseeches Bill to take care of Virginia. Meanwhile, Virginia has slipped out of her apartment with Devil, and Bill tracks her to a run-down hotel on skid row. There, Bill states that he knows her real name is Virginia Weston and that she killed Lola. Just as Virginia sics Devil on Bill, the police arrive and subdue the dog. Virginia, now in a trance-like state, is led away into a waiting ambulance.
Gypsy Rose Lee
The Red Norvo Trio
Don G. Ross
Betsy Jones Moreland
Thomas B. Henry
Harry Joe Brown
Harry Joe Brown Jr.
Frank A. Tuttle
From the opening frames of the film in which a bizarre figurine of a shrieking woman is superimposed over the credits, Screaming Mimi establishes itself as a movie for fetishists and voyeurs, an observation that is reinforced by our first sighting of the voluptuous blonde heroine, Virginia Wilson (Anita Ekberg), emerging from the surf after a swim. In a matter of minutes, the idyllic beginning with Virginia and her dog returning to a rustic seaside cottage is shattered by the arrival of a knife-welding psycho, an escapee from a road gang. He butchers her dog and then tries to slice and dice the hysterical Virginia in her outdoor shower until her half-brother Charlie (Romney Brent) comes to the rescue and shoots the assailant dead. The experience leaves Virginia in a state of traumatic shock and she is sent to the Highland Sanitarium to recover. Once there she falls under the Svengali-like influence of Dr. Greenwood (Harry Townes), whose interest in Virginia extends beyond the purely professional. (We can tell by the way he spies on her in her private cell and his obsessive need to control her: "Do you trust me? Would you do anything I say?").
After Virginia is released from the sanitarium, she moves to the city where she assumes a new identity as Yolanda Lange, an exotic dancer at the "El Madhouse" nightclub run by "Your Favorite Hostess Joann Masters," as advertised by the billboard outside the entrance. Accompanied by her guard dog, a Great Dane named Devil, and her new manager, the former Dr. Greenwood, Yolanda quickly becomes the talk of the town with her provocative nightclub act, a suggestive interpretive dance with S&M overtones involving chains and two dangling ropes as props. But Virginia soon takes a turn for the worst when she is attacked and wounded by an unknown assailant who could be the same mad slasher that recently murdered another exotic dancer. To tell you any more would spoil the ensuing insanity which involves a hardboiled newspaper reporter (Philip Carey) smitten by Yolanda, a sculptor of disturbing figurines, and an antique dealer who sells the creepy artifacts which become clues to the killer at large.
Anita Ekberg, of course, is the real showcase in Screaming Mimi and she is at the peak of her beauty, her body impervious to the laws of gravity. She would go on to establish herself as an international sex siren in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) two years later but here she is required to alternate between hysterics and a shock treatment-like daze, muttering dialogue like "You're not my doctor, you haven't got a white coat." In what is probably the most bizarre scene in the movie, we observe her specialty act which is intercut with mute reaction shots of the hipster nightclub patrons (including same-sex couples) and one astonishing close-up of her Great Dane who appears to be licking his chops over her erotic moves.
As Ekberg's would-be rescuer and seducer, Philip Carey projects just the right amount of sleaziness and cynicism for a newspaperman who gets his best news tips in after-hours bars. He was a regular staple in crime melodramas of the fifties, usually playing morally ambiguous cops or leering mashers, and later became a series regular on the TV soap opera One Life to Live (1988-2007). Harry Townes also lends his sinister presence to the proceedings before being pushed to his death through a glass window by Ekberg's dog! Townes was a prolific television actor from the '50s through the '70s appearing in everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents! to Magnum P.I.. What most people don't know is that Townes went to seminary school in the '70s and became an Episcopal priest, though he would still occasionally accept acting gigs up until 1988 when he retired.
The real scene-stealer in Screaming Mimi is famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee as the ball-busting lesbian proprietor of "El Madhouse." Her performance has a schizophrenic quality that ping-pongs from fake cheer as she harasses her customers - "Drink up Barney, you're on an expense account. My rent is due!" - to shameless self-promotion - "Popped in to see my new cupcake? I tell you Bill, she is the greatest thing in the history of night club entertainment!" Whether she is striding into the room, slinging her arms, or angrily chomping on a piece of celery, Lee is hard to ignore. At the time of the film, she was 47 years old and she brings a touch of high class professionalism to her solo number, "Put the Blame on Mame," in which her twirling furs and shimmy-shake dress look rather old-fashioned compared to Ekberg's outre dance number. There is also a brief, surprising moment - and possibly an in-joke - in which Lee is seen stroking the bald head of a seated patron who remains unseen, proclaiming to all, "Isn't that a beautiful specimen? I built a career on heads like that." From the back the man looks like director Otto Preminger, with whom Lee had an affair that produced a son, Erik.
Unlike other B-movie thrillers of its era, Screaming Mimi is a genuine oddity which revels in the kinky detail and seems a much purer reflection of its pulp fiction origins than most low-budget thrillers. One reason for this is the striking chiaroscuro-like cinematography of Burnett Guffey which brings a painter's eye to the visual clichés of the genre. For example, in one scene, a flashing neon sign outside Yolanda's bedroom reveals Yolanda and Bill, in almost subliminal flickers, as they embrace on the bed while an outside streetlight illuminates Devil, Yolanda's guard dog, sleeping on the floor beside them. Guffey, of course, was not your typical B-movie cinematographer and chalked up four Oscar® nominations over the course of his career for From Here to Eternity , Birdman of Alcatraz , King Rat  and Bonnie and Clyde .
Screaming Mimi is also not the sort of film that is usually associated with producers Harry Joe Brown and Robert Fellows. Brown is best known for his successful collaboration with Randolph Scott on a series of low-budget Westerns for Columbia Pictures. Screaming Mimi was made between Decision at Sundown  and Buchanan Rides Alone . Fellows, on the other hand, was a frequent collaborator with John Wayne and together they produced seven movies together including the 1954 box office hit The High and the Mighty and the William Wellman Western, Track of the Cat . Screaming Mimi represented an odd detour for both producers and was barely noticed at all by moviegoers since it was consigned to the bottom of double bills and released on the grindhouse and drive-in circuits.
One final note: The nightclub musical interludes in Screaming Mimi feature the Red Norvo Trio, which provides the appropriate cool cat ambience worthy of "El Madhouse" and also reflects the influence of the West Coast jazz scene that was emerging in San Francisco and Los Angeles at the time. Red Norvo was a xylophone specialist whose music followed in the tradition of Lionel Hampton and Adrian Rollini and, during the fifties when this movie was made, he often led a drummerless trio, appearing with such jazz legends as Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus.
Producers: Harry Joe Brown, Robert Follows
Director: Gerd Oswald
Screenplay: Fredric Brown (novel "The Screaming Mimi")
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Gene Havlick, Jerome Thoms
Cast: Anita Ekberg (Virginia Wilson/Yolanda Lange), Philip Carey (Bill Sweeney), Gypsy Rose Lee (Joann 'Gypsy' Mapes), Harry Townes (Dr. Greenwood), Linda Cherney (Ketti), Romney Brent (Charlie Weston), Alan Gifford (Captain Bline), Oliver McGowan (Walter Krieg), Red Norvo (Red Yost).
by Jeff Stafford
Although a published list of onscreen credits in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library contains the following acknowledgment: "Scenes at Carrillo Beach through the courtesy of California Department of Natural Resources, division of Beaches and Parks," that acknowledgment was not on the viewed print. The last names of "Virginia" and "Charlie" are listed as "Wilson" in the Variety, but the name is "Weston" in the film's dialogue.
The Variety review notes that the film takes place in San Francisco, but the sets are not modeled on the Victorian architecture characteristic of San Francisco. Although an October 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item states that screenwriter Robert Blees was to write lyrics for the film's theme song "Mimi," that song was not in the viewed print. The Hollywood Reporter review states that the film was shot in CinemaScope, but the onscreen credits make no mention of the widescreen process, nor does any other review.
Released in United States Spring April 1958
Released in United States Spring April 1958